June 13, 2013

The United States military is under fire right now for its inability to curb widespread sexual assaults within its ranks. The numbers are staggering– the Pentagon released a report estimating 26,000 cases of sexual assault last year, up from an estimated 19,000 assaults in 2010. The numbers show that, despite how top commanders in the military believe they are managing it, clearly there is something wrong. Lack of candor, perhaps?

It seems candor may be missing in several places along the breakdown. First, in the way sexual assaults are reported along the chain of command. Victims say they hesitate to report their assault because of fear about how it would – or would not – be addressed.

“You have lost the trust of the men and women who rely on you. [They are] afraid to report, they fear their careers are over – they feel they are being blamed.” -Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (who has proposed controversial legislation on removing the chain of command from cases of sexual assault)

Next, it appears that, until recently, there has been little acknowledgement there is an issue, let alone its severity. You can’t fix a problem unless you are candid with yourself and others that there is actually a problem to address in the first place.

Ultimately, candor seems to be missing from the process of tackling the problem of sexual assault in the military and turning it around. Despite the very public conversation about this issue, top military leaders still have strong reservations about actually making changes.

“The problem of sexual assault is of such scope and magnitude that it has become a stain on our military. [Real progress will not be seen] without a cultural change in the military from the top down.” -Sen. Carl Levin (Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee)

“Last night a woman came to me and said her daughter wanted to join the military and could I give my unqualified support for her doing so, I could not. We’ve been talking about the issue for years and talk is insufficient.” Sen. John McCain (a former Naval officer who was held as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War)

Our military is built on a foundation of power and dominance. It works in most cases. Now is the time for the leadership to admit, openly and honestly, that they have a serious issue and that they need help to address it. That type of candor would show real strength.